Supreme Court will hear two cases Wednesday
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Supreme Court will hear two cases Wednesday

Date: October 2, 2006
By: Kathryn Buschman
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -Six weeks before elections the issues of who gets to vote and what they will vote on has yet to be finalized. On Wednesday the Missouri Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two cases that will affect voters at the polls-the voter ID requirement and the tobacco tax ballot measure. 

Last month a Cole County Circuit Judge ruled the voter id law unconstitutional saying it placed a unfair burden on the poor and elderly. The law, signed by the governor in August, required voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls starting with the Nov. 7 election. The law allowed voters without an ID to cast a provisional ballot that would then be checked against election records for validity.

The Department of Revenue began issuing free photo identification cards to residents without proper identification this summer. After Richard Callahan's ruling the department suspended issuing free IDs Sept. 18 after issuing 2,074.

Opponents of the law claim it disenfranchised thousands of voters-especially the elderly, disabled and lower income individuals.

In his ruling Callahan wrote that for the majority of residents the requirement might be inconsequential but for some individuals it could be a burden.

 "However, for the elderly, the poor, the under educated, or otherwise disadvantaged, the burden can be great if not insurmountable, and it is those very people outside the mainstream of society who are the least equipped to bear the costs or navigate the many bureaucracies necessary to obtain the required documentation," Callahan wrote.

However, the bill's sponsor Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, has argued the law is necessary to curb fraud in state elections.

Maura Browning, spokesperson for the Department of Revenue, estimates that 137,000 residents would be in need of an identification card to vote if the lower court's decision is over ruled.  

A federal lawsuit against the voter ID law was filed in St. Louis on Sept. 6. Attorneys in that lawsuit agreed to put the case on hold until the Missouri Supreme Court hears the case.  

Following the voter ID case the court is scheduled to hear an appeal on the tobacco tax ballot measure. Last month Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown ruled to allow the initiative to be on the November ballot after the Missouri Secretary of State determined the petition fell short of the required number of signatures.

 The ballot initiative would increase the state's tobacco tax from 17 cents per pack to 97 cents. Supporters of the initiative estimate the tax would create around $350 million annually. The money would fund state health care and anti-smoking programs. Missouri's current tax on a pack of cigarettes is the second lowest in the nation.  

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan determined in August that the measure fell 274 signatures short of the required 23,527 needed from the Kansas City area. Brown overturned that decision ruling that local election officials failed to validate more than 1,000 signatures-giving the measure more than the required signatures to be placed on the ballot.

 Last week three top Republican lawmakers announced their opposition to the tax increase. House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, Rep. Allen Icet and Sen. Chuck Gross filed a brief with the Supreme Court on Friday. The lawmakers oppose the ballot measure because it  requires the state to provide Medicaid coverage to everyone at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level.

Bearden, R-St. Charles, said "the un-funded mandate" to provide coverage to everyone at that level of poverty is projected to cost the state $1.2 billion. The measure is expected to raise between $300-$400 million. "This would require us to use general revenue funds taking from other programs and the Constitution specifically prohibits that action," Bearden said.

Marc Ellinger, the attorney representing Missourians Against Tax Abuse who filed the appeal, said the court's acceptance of the brief shows the court is interested in the issue the lawmakers present in their brief.

Ellinger said he doesn't expect a final ruling on Wednesday. "In my personal remembrance I don't ever recall a case being ruled on the same day, but I think they will rule very quickly." Ellinger said the latest date he recalls on prior rulings on election cases is Oct. 25.   

A similar ballot imitative was narrowly defeated in 2002. Jim Blaine, a volunteer of the American Lung Association, said certain aspects of the initiative were changed this time to get it passed.

"When we asked [voters] why they voted against it, overwhelmingly what we go twas that they didn't believe the government would spend it as advertised and so thats the reason we made this one Constitutional, so the money will be spent how we say it is going to be spent." 

If voters pass the ballot measure the tax will take effect on January 1.

Four other ballot measures are on the November statewide ballot: